Photo by Adam Hand
The 101-year-old Sparks Milling Co. office building at 210 William St.
ALTON — A potentially contentious meeting of the Alton Historical Commission turned into a “real lovefest” Tuesday.
An application for demolition of the house at 210 William St., known locally as the former Sparks Milling Co. office building, was on the agenda for consideration by the commission, irking some community members who believed property owner Ardent Mills was intentionally letting the structure fall into disrepair so it could be razed. But Ardent Mills plant manager Jeff Brasch said Tuesday that the application has been officially withdrawn, granting a stay of execution for the historic building.
That revelation delighted the handful of residents who had gathered to protest the possible demolition of the 101-year-old house.
“We didn’t expect this at all. This is going to be a real lovefest now,” said Terry Sharp, president of the Alton Area Landmarks Association. “This is good news for Alton. I appreciate that Ardent is doing this.”
The issue came into the public’s consciousness after Sharp learned on Sept. 12 that Ardent Mills had plans to demolish the building. Sharp noticed the windows on the building’s first floor had been knocked out, he said in a Sept. 28 email, a move he said was to “jeopardize the structural integrity of the building.
“Ardent is following to the letter the playbook for illegal old building demolition,” Sharp wrote in the email to AALA email subscribers.
On Tuesday, Brasch said the windows were damaged during abatement of asbestos from the building. He also said he has plans to board up the broken windows on the second level of the house and paint all the boards a color that matches the surrounding exterior. He agreed to attempt to preserve, where possible, windows on the second floor that are still intact.
As far as what comes next, there are multiple avenues Brasch said he might pursue for the property. One is to get approval from a board of directors with his company to move forward with the demolition request, possibly erecting steps or planting flowers to highlight the nearby Alton Military Prison site.
Another avenue is an idea presented by multiple speakers Tuesday — turning the house into a museum of sorts, focusing on the history of the milling industry. Brasch said community service is one of Ardent Mills’ core values and said the idea is “worth at least a discussion.”
Ron Belcher, Ardent Mills assistant plant manager who was also at Tuesday’s meeting, said the company will have to consider the emotional and historical aspects of preserving the property while also being pragmatic about the financial burden of a restoration project.
“I think their passion, their passion and their comments are admirable,” Belcher said of the three members of the public who addressed the commission. “Obviously, they care very much about the history of Alton.
“I think we also have to look at it from a practical standpoint. And, as Jeff has mentioned, the house is in rough shape on the inside.”
Those decisions are on the horizon, and nothing concerning the future of the building will be done without again addressing the Historical Commission. Commission chair Doug Bader said Tuesday’s result, at least, was a positive one.
“We’re very glad that Ardent Mills withdrew the application,” Bader said. “And of course, that means we don’t have to consider the request for demolition, and it sounds like they’re going to reconsider their use of the property.
“As you heard from a lot of the people here tonight, everybody really is encouraging them to figure out the way to use the building. And so we really hope that long-term we’re going to be able to save the building and not have it torn down.”